For most parents of school-aged children, creating an estate plan is less about distributing assets through their last will and testament than it is about appointing a guardian for their children. However, many of our clients tell us that once they complete their last will and testament and appoint a guardian, they “check out” of the estate planning process. Unfortunately, this can be a serious mistake. Just like parenting, estate planning is a continuous process.
Part of your role as a parent is to evaluate who you want to care for your children in the event of your death. Beyond naming a guardian, however, it is important to have a comprehensive plan in place to help guide and support your children and their guardian through such a challenging time. This plan should not only cover the specifics such as who has legal authority to make decisions and access finances, but should also contemplate the legacy you want to leave your kids for the future.
Let us share some important questions to consider when naming a guardian to help make an informed decision in your estate plan. Further, we also want to share considerations to help you craft a plan that creates a legacy for your family, rather than just a last will and testament for the disposition of your assets.
1. Is the guardian you have chosen still the best person for the job?
As a parent, feeling confident that your children will be well taken care of after you are gone may put some of your worries at ease. When choosing a guardian, you should consider whether that individual shares your core values and parenting goals. Think about your own values, whether personal, religious, educational, or moral, and consider whether the appointed guardian will raise your children in a manner that is similar, or at least respectful, of those values. Remember, things can change over time, and it is important to frequently check in on your selection.
2. Is the guardian financially able to take on the responsibility?
It is no secret that raising children is expensive. Ideally, the chosen guardian will be financially responsible and able to provide for your children, but you can feel more secure by financially preparing for your children yourself through an estate plan. Remember, a last will and testament is an estate planning document. A comprehensive estate plan can set up trusts for your children, where they can receive allocated funds at an age or under specific circumstances you deem appropriate. You may also want to consider whether you would like to assist the guardian with his or her personal expenses such as a house or car payment while your children are still minors.
3. Did you and your spouse both agree on who to name as guardian?
It may seem obvious, but being on the same page as your spouse when appointing a guardian for your children is essential. An estate plan provides you flexibility to detail your wishes for your children’s care and, as you work with your estate planning attorney, may also help eliminate a situation where one spouse “wins” the argument of who to appoint as guardian. Discussing both of your goals for your children’s care and future with an estate planning attorney and combining those wishes into an estate plan may be an effective option for your family.
These are just a few of the questions you may want to consider. Are you ready to discuss this further? Do not hesitate to talk to our office about the legal planning that you need. We are here to support you and help create a comprehensive estate plan that best supports your children’s needs.